Earl “Gip” Seaver
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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
January 14, 2009
DeKalb — Ronald Reagan was president. A man who would later occupy the California governor’s office Reagan once held – fellow movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger – was not yet a U.S. citizen.
Chicken McNuggets and compact discs were brand new. Michael Jackson and the Police ruled the radio. “Star Wars” was not only the year’s top-grossing film (for the trilogy-ending “Return of the Jedi”) but the nickname given to Reagan’s recent proposal to develop technology to intercept enemy missiles.
At Northern Illinois University – on April 8, 1983, to be exact – an impressive and robust report on baccalaureate education was submitted to the Council of Instruction. Its wisdom, carefully crafted by 11 faculty members from the five colleges with undergraduate programs as well as a student and the associate provost, would guide NIU well.
But times change. And, a quarter-century later, that document created on an electric typewriter remains the most-recent examination of NIU’s undergraduate program.
“It’s good for any institution to periodically review what it believes – what it thinks is important – and to make sure that the curriculum supports those beliefs. The last time we did that here at NIU was 25 years ago,” said Greg Long, a professor in the Department of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders.
“Before we can enact any kind of general education reform, we need consensus on baccalaureate goals to drive whatever approaches we take and efforts we make regarding curricular changes,” Long added. “The first step in getting that information is soliciting opinions from all the major constituencies related to the university.”
Long chairs the baccalaureate review steering committee, which next month will launch a series of focus group meetings and an online survey expected to bring the opinions and ideas that will define and reflect NIU’s culture and mold the university’s future.
Spawned by the university’s strategic planning process, Long’s group has met since late last summer to construct a framework for the gathering of input. The steering committee also will oversee about 30 members of a special task force who will lead the focus group sessions.
Their curiosities: What do we want our students to know? What do we want them to be able to do? What kind of citizens – what kind of people – do we want them to be?
Committee members will spend the summer sifting through the eventual reams of data to create a report and, come the fall, present recommendations to administrators and campus leaders.
“Clearly it’s time for us, based on the strategic plan, to re-evaluate what an NIU degree means,” said Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver, who has facilitated the steering committee planning. “It’s important for a university to continue to think about what students will know and what skills and abilities they will have once they earn their degrees.”
Identified focus groups include students, faculty, administrators, staff and parents.
Steering committee members also are interested in the opinions of the community – school districts and community colleges – as well as employers, program accreditation associations and governmental agencies such as the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
Each forum will last about an hour, Long said, and will include quiet times for participants to ponder the questions and write their ideas on paper.
“A serious undertaking of this process necessitates input from all key stakeholders,” said Carolinda Douglass, a member of the committee who also chaired the strategic planning task force on student success. “As the process moves forward, it offers all members of the NIU community an opportunity to be involved in a development and collaborative process that will shape the future of NIU baccalaureate graduates and of NIU itself.”
“I’m pleased that they’re attempting to engage the entire campus community. The framework is excellent and consistent with our shared governance,” Seaver said. “Every single person will have the opportunity to talk about what an NIU degree should mean, and it will remind us of the importance of the university and the students. We all have to keep in mind that we’re here because of the students.”
Members of the steering committee also include David Changnon, Jes Cisneros, Elisa Fredericks, Omar Ghrayeb, Jeff Kowalksi, Paul Stoddard and Lucy Townsend.
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